Circles & Stones

Circles & Stones


For thousands of years Niitsitapi traveled throughout their traditional territory co-existing with the land, plants, animals and other beings.
Evidence of the early days comes in the form of oral tradition, artifacts and those remaining landmarks which have survived the settlement of the prairies. Medicine wheels, tipi rings, rock formations, pictographs, rock writings, effigies, buffalo jumps, pounds and cairns may all provide historical clues. Settlers who arrived in the 19th century began to clear land for agriculture. Since that time, natural events, vandals, souvenir hunters and industrial development have also eliminated many remnants of the past. Sites remaining in more isolated areas, along with those more accessible, are beginning to receive government protection and public awareness has increased their chance for survival. Unfortunately disrespect for these historical, and sometimes sacred, sites continues to the present day in spite of efforts to protect them. For example, the Big Rock near Okotoks, Alberta, an important historical site, is often used by visitors for climbing, and recently graffiti was painted on it. Elders and archaeologists will attempt to clean up the graffiti. It will only be through increased public education and awareness that these special places will survive to provide a glimpse of the past for generations to come.

Circles & Stones

Circles & stones

The Stones

Medicine Wheel

The medicine wheel is identified by a cairn of rocks with spokes radiating outward in all directions, resembling a wagon wheel. These formations made of stones are commonly known as “medicine wheels”. They do not always look like wheels, but many have a central cairn Surrounded by one or two rings, sometimes with spokes. Many have been destroyed or altered, but most that remain are located in traditional Blackfoot Territory – mainly in Alberta, but also Montana and Wyoming, with some in Saskatchewan. There are several in the vicinity of Siksika, including Majorville where bone from the bottom of the central cairn has been identified as 4,500 years old. Their origins remain a mystery. Were they “Aw’kih’tawksini” or memorials? Were “omah’kaw’kih’tawkssinistsi” created in a large manner so the “Spoo’mitaapiksi”, or above people could see them from where they are in the universe? Were they territorial markers? Calendars? Were they ceremonial? Were they sacred buffalo sites? Spiritual sanctuaries? To the Blackfoot the medicine wheel is a shrine or offering to the sky beings, however, due to the enigma attached to the medicine wheel it is difficult to determine whether it was for spiritual or ritual purposes. What is known for certain is that these very special places should be honoured and respected by everyone.

Stone Figures

Most of the stone figures on the prairies have been destroyed. The few that remain are in remote locations and are relatively undisturbed. Several have been altered over time. The figures are shaped like animals or humans, and some are part of larger formations. There are several located in Siksika, including at least two Napi or “Old Man”figures. The “Ward Effigy” has been designated as a Provincial Historic site. It is located on a hill near Cluny with panoramic views to the south and west. The feet point in the direction of Blackfoot Crossing. There are rock piles in the area which indicate that there may have been other formations or tipi rings. Around 1872 a battle took place between several Siksika and Kainaiwa on the flat by the Bow River near Blackfoot Crossing. After the battle, the Siksika band involved in the skirmish marked the story of the battle with stones. Cairns at each end showed where the opponents jumped off their horses and ran towards each other. Their paths were marked by a trail of stones. Along the trail was the figure of one of the Kainaiwa at the spot where he was killed.


The circles of stones were normally used to hold down the edges of the lodges. The old tipis were made of buffalo skins and were much heavier than the canvas ones. They could not be blown away as easily, so stones were able to hold them in place. But when we started to use canvas, we had to use pegs or our tipis would be blown over. Stones were also used between the pegs. Thousands of tipi rings can be still be found on the prairie. Each one has its own story. The size of the ring indicates if the tipi was used during the dog days when dogs carried the tipis, or after the horse arrived. If there are two rings, and a circle of stones in the centre, it was probably used in the winter. The inner ring was the liner, and the stones were the fireplace. The number of tipi rings in an area shows how many people camped together. Across the traditional Blackfoot territory stone circles can still be found where the nomadic Blackfoot camped during the great buffalo hunts. Rocks were used to hold down the edges of the tipi before the tipi peg came into use. These rocks were left as a marker after the people broke camp.
Circles & Stones

The Story of a Prairie People

Old Man was traveling about, south of here making the people. He came from the south, traveling north, making animals and birds as he passed along. He made the mountains, prairies, timber and brush first. So he went along traveling northward, making things as he went, putting rivers here and there, and falls on them, putting red paint here and there in the ground, — fixing up the world as we see it today. He made the Milk River and crossed it, and, being tired, went up on a little hill and lay down to rest. As he lay on his back, stretched out on the ground, with arms extended, he marked himself out with stones, the shape of his body, head, legs, arms, and everything. There you can see those rocks today. “Blackfoot Lodge Tales, The Story of a Prairie People”, George Bird Grinnell
Story Telling


My grandmother took me for a walk across the river one day where the river was shallow. We walked along until we came to a big rock with little holes all over its surface. She said when she was a little girl her mother took her to this very rock and told her that the rock came from the stars. Her mother told her that when she, her mother, was a little girl like her she witnessed a star that fell from the sky. It had a very long bright burning tail. The people in the camp witnessed this star flying over the camp and as it went past them they heard a rushing sound and felt a wind. It went beyond them, suddenly hit the ground and produced a huge bright light. Her mother was very afraid. The next day her mother went with some others to investigate where it had hit the ground. Some of the people called it "Pahstsi-misina", which means a sickness or a plague of some kind. It is a name given to comets that fly through the sky and then usually a new sickness afflicts the people. This rock can be found in a depression directly south and across the river from the Muskrat Lake community in west Siksika.